Here’s a blog from four years ago that still rings true today. No doubt I’m more sensitive when it comes to talking about coaches’ jobs that are in peril - during the PREseason - not because anyone was ever talking about me but because they were talking about my boss. As a career assistant, I found myself apologizing for speculation. This always irked me since it was nothing more than somebody, with no inside knowledge, or any other kind, filling space in a column. There are enough reasons to get fired.
Preseason predictions are fun because, if nothing else, they signal that the actual season is right around the corner. Ranking teams (and even players) is one of America’s favorite past times because it gives bragging rights for the young (even though they might be somewhat immature) and gives additional debate topics for adults (who often act even more immature).
“My school/team is ranked higher than yours” and “No way should your school/team be ranked higher than mine” are the two most overused phrases in sports’ arguments - at least until real games are played. Then the arguing will still continue, but at least an occasional statistic will be thrown into the conversation, giving at least one person some credibility.
The ranking of individuals is neat too - from a fan’s perspective, especially if the supporter knows the player. If the standout is merely an acquaintance of the person, he may very likely become “one of my closest friends,” assuming the opponent in the discussion has no way of finding out how close (or not) his adversary is to Mr. Stud.
The one category that I’ve never found amusing, pertinent, or in any way necessary, (as readers of this space might have guessed) is that of “Coach on the Hot Seat.” Sure, it’s rubs me the wrong way because I spent so much of my adult life in the world of coaching, but, disregarding that, what purpose does it serve? Is the author of the article or “list” telling readers something of substance? Normally the person sitting in that spot either lost the previous season, or has strung a few of them together. So, what’s the point of the category? It isn’t like a reader will come across the name and say, “Hey, that guy has lost the past few years. How come he’s still around?” I doubt anyone ever made the list who was coming off of a winning campaign.
While compassion is not, nor has ever been, a required trait of any member of the sports media, what has always bewildered me is the lack of humanity when including a “coach on the hot seat” category. I completely understand and agree with the other (positive categories) - although eliminating “coach on the rise” wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, probably because I look at team sports as being about the team. Even individual player stats are mostly due to “others.” It is, after all, what the coaches are constantly preaching. I’ve also always felt the post-season award should be called “Coaching Staff of the Year”.
My reasons for wishing “COTHS” be stricken from print is that, first of all, it hurts recruiting (which might be a major reason the guy’s on it in the first place). On the college level, players, coaches and recruits will question the coach (or his assistants) about the job (in)security - and there’s really no way of answering it. Only the ultimate boss, e.g. the AD, president or chancellor has the final say to the question. It’s similar to asking, “Do you still beat your wife?” Whatever you say hurts your position. Only your wife can answer that satisfactorily. In addition, with all the negative recruiting that goes on at the intercollegiate level, rival recruiters feel it’s not wrong to point out the “hot seat” remark - since it is in black and white, i.e. it’s not “gossip.” Although, until it’s printed by that school’s decision-maker, gossip is exactly what it is.
If it’s on the professional level, it often destroys the coach-player relationship, especially if the coach has to deal with an ultra-ego (selfish and/or low intellect) player who’s making more money than he is or, worse, his agent. Seeing your name on the “hot seat” list adds fuel to any disgruntled player (especially if his minutes are down). “Hey, man, this cat ain’t goin’ to be around much longer. What do I need to show him respect for? He ain’t been showin’ it to me.”
But, the worst reason for it is that it’s often devastating to the coach’s family. Coaches won’t hear it themselves because people know who they are and most of the public have the common decency to keep their mouths shut when the coach is within “hearing range.” This, however, doesn’t apply to the coach’s wife, often unrecognizable, and thus, all too susceptible to overhearing gossip such as, “Yeah, I heard Ol’ Coach is gone if he doesn’t win this year/this week/tonight.” Something like that tends to put a damper on the remainder of Mrs. Coach’s day.
Worst of all, is the impact that kind of rumor has on the coach’s kids. Sure, he took on the job - and at the big-time college level and in the pros, a large check accompanies it. But when kids (and the younger the kids, the worse it is) hear their classmates repeat what their daddy said to his neighbor the night before, “fight or flight” usually is the result for the offended youngster.
Plus, say it does turn out to be true and the guy gets pink-slipped. As a journalist, are you going to pat yourself on the back: ”Hey, remember, I called that one even before the year started?” Does being right about a person’s demise give you a warm feeling all over?
What if you’re wrong and it turns out not to be true? And not because the team won, but because of other factors, unknown to you. Like, the school gave a commitment to the coach and feels it should honor that commitment (eschewing the “instant gratification” of most administrators - usually brought on by pressure from money people)? Or maybe the administration feels the coach is handicapped by, say, poor facilities (that he was promised when he signed on, but because of budget cuts, never received) or injuries to key players, i.e. the decision-makers are really close to the program and the coach showing them exactly what they hoped for when the coach was hired? Or maybe the administration just happens to believes they hired the right person and decides to stick with that right person - similar to the way former director of athletics Tom Butters did when the guy he hired had a rocky start in his first three years.
Today, Tom Butters is held is the highest esteem - by other administrators, coaches and fans - for sticking with Mike Kryzyzewski, even though he was nine games under .500 and had an ACC record of 13-29 after his first three years in Durham.
Why did Butters keep Coach K when, had he fired him, no one would have questioned him? Probably for the same reason Butters, retired since 1998, said he knew Mike would make a statement of support to the lacrosse players who were wrongly accused of rape (remember them)? It takes a guy with Coach K’s respect to come out and say:
“There are times you have to put your ass on the line.”